The block, which is said to hold probable reserves of 9.23 billion barrels of oil, was sold to Shell and Eni for $1.1bn in 2011.
Prosecutors alleged that “fronts for President Goodluck Jonathan” received $523m in proceeds of what they described as “smash and grab” deal, with the Crown Prosecution Service, acting at the behest of the Public Prosecutor for Milan, describing OPL 245 as a case of “grand corruption”.
The court rejected an attempt by a company owned by a former Nigerian Petroleum Resources Minister, Dan Etete, to unfreeze $85m (N16.7bn) in proceeds of the corrupt deal for the block, according to a statement on the website of Global Witness.
Justice Edis of the Southwark Crown Court turned down Malabu Oil & Gas application to discharge the freezing order, rejecting its arguments that the Crown had failed to follow proper procedures in securing the freezing order.
“I cannot simply assume that the Federal Government of Nigeria, which was in power in 2011 and subsequently until 2015, rigorously defended the public interest of the people of Nigeria in all respects. Mr. Fisher QC, who appeared for the CPS, used the phrase ‘grand corruption’ to describe the form of corruption in which the state itself is culpable,” the judge said.
According to the statement, evidence from the US authorities presented to the court and included in the judgement “shows payments following circuitous routes, which totalled $523m, and arrived at Abubakar Aliyu, aka ‘Mr. Corruption’… Aliyu’s companies are allegedly fronts for President Goodluck Jonathan.”
Justice Edis said, “The suggestion from the wiretaps is that ‘Fortunato’ was implicated and I am told that this was a reference in code (not subtle) to the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. Aliyu is said to be associated with him and Aliyu received, in a way which was not transparent, $523m of the money paid for the OPL 245 licence in August 2011.”
The $85m funds were restrained at the request of the Italian authorities, who are investigating the sale of the block by Malabu, a company allegedly secretly owned by Etete, to the international oil companies, the statement said.
It added that the Federal Government under Jonathan acted as a middleman in the deal, and the court received evidence based on wiretaps that prosecutors alleged showed that the then President, Jonathan, was directly involved.
“In light of these allegations in a UK court, the role of the senior Nigerian officials involved in this deal, including Goodluck Jonathan, must now be fully investigated,” a Nigerian anti-corruption campaigner, Dotun Oloko, was quoted as saying.
Source: The Punch